When the people of Chicago wanted to enjoy a waterpark getaway, they typically drove three-plus hours to the Wisconsin Dells. It dawned on Dave Anderson — a man known more for barbecue than hospitality — to bring one a lot closer to them.
In 2008, Anderson, aka Famous Dave,” opened KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort in Gurnee, Illinois, just a few blocks away from the traffic-drawing amusement park Six Flags Great America.
Anderson has since sold his equity in KeyLime Cove. However, the resort, with its Florida Keys theme, continues as a hot destination for the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas, as well as much of the Midwest.
KeyLime Cove has more than 4,000 square feet of retail space made up of four stores — a primary gift shop, a store that sells swimwear and accessories, a general store and a plush animal market. The stores collectively make up an area of the resort designed to resemble Key West’s iconic Duval Street.
Museums & More recently caught up with Jon Town, the director of retail and entertainment for KeyLime Cove, to talk shop.
MM: How many employees do you have?
JT: The retail areas currently have 15 crew members for our four locations within the resort. Three of our crew members are full-time, with the majority being part-time to help out during peak times.
MM: How do the stores fit into the resort’s overall theme?
JT: The retail shops within KeyLime Cove are another avenue for revenue. Most of our guests want a gift or souvenir to remember the great time they had at KeyLime Cove. Our shops help add that feeling of Key West shopping on Duval Street right in their own backyard. Island Hoppers Outfitters is our main shop and offers a large selection of tropical apparel, giftware and souvenirs. LuLu’s Swim Shoppe offers swimwear, cover-ups, swim accessories sandals and flip-flops. Mangrove Jack’s Trading Post serves as our general store. Guests can get a quick snack from candy, chips, pop and find forgotten necessities from toothbrushes to over-the-counter medicines. Pinki’s Palace is where guests can make their own stuffed animal friend; they choose their animal, then choose a star, make a wish and help bring it to life and our staff helps them to stuff the animal. … All shops are themed to the authentic feel of South Florida’s Key West. For example, Mangrove Jack is our bush pilot that runs supplies (sundries and essentials) to paradise, which can be found in Mangrove Jack’s.
MM: The collection of stores can essentially allow visitors not to have to leave. Where did this concept come from?
JT: Since KeyLime Cove opened its doors they have had multiple shops within the resort. KeyLime Cove is a hybrid of amusement park and hotel. We have a captive audience that came to have fun but are also staying with you for 24 hours or longer. So, you want to be sure that you meet the guests’ needs. Having the multiple locations with different merchandise allows you to meet their expectations with visual variety and selection.
MM: What are the biggest-selling items?
JT: At Island Hoppers, apparel is our No. 1 selling item, specifically the Lifeguard license we began offering in December 2014. Smaller KeyLime Cove souvenirs, such as key chains, magnets, shells and the popular bag of rocks are also high-demand products. In Lulu’s Swim Shoppe, popular items include goggles, goggles and more goggles! Pinki’s Pet Palace’s No. 1 animal that is made is our mascot, Toukie. At Mangrove Jack’s, the top-selling items are beverages.
MM: How much of your apparel is location-specific, whether branded specifically to KeyLime or to Chicago, in general?
JT: Approximately 95 percent of our apparel is branded specifically for KeyLime Cove. Most of our guests are specifically interested in KeyLime Cove-branded apparel because it is so unique. They want something to take home with them that reminds them of their stay. We try to keep the mix of products fun and current with trends, and add to the mix items that can’t be found anywhere else. It keeps the shopping experience fun. Silly hats and fun signs, toys that light up, pirate-themed clothing, shells, shot glasses and fun plush keeps our guests entertained while shopping.
MM: Being a resort, getting repeat customers can probably be a challenge. What do you do to try to get people to come back?
JT: We try to make sure our guests are our first priority, we want to make them feel welcome, assist them with their needs. We aim to make the experience for the guests fun and engaging, even if it means having have sword fights with the toy pirate swords. We also try to do is keep up with the current trends in the industry, because those guests that do return want to browse and see new products and new art work, colors, styles, etc.
MM: Any unique products in the stores that tend to draw customers’ attention?
JT: We have a large selection of fun signs that are beach- and man cave-themed that draw people in. We do get a lot of people who may not even be staying with us come in to purchase these to decorate their beach house or cottage, as they cannot find them anywhere else in the area.
At a Glance
What: KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort in Gurnee, Illinois
Location: The 414-room resort is located along I-94, with downtown Chicago 45 miles to the south and Milwaukee 50 miles to the north. With Six Flags Great America and the Gurnee Mills Mall each less than a mile away, the area is a population destination for tourists.
Stores: There are four retail stores within KeyLime Cove, all collectively designed to fit in with the resort’s Key West feel. The stores consist of the 2,200-square-foot Island Hopper Outfitters, the resort’s primary gift shop and apparel store; Lulu’s Beach Shoppe (1,250 square feet), which focuses on swimwear and accompanying accessories; Mangrove Jack’s Trading Post (575 square feet), a general store with food and beverages; and Pinki’s Pet Palace (450 square feet), where guests can create their own plush animal toys.
Traffic: KeyLime Cove attracts visitors from across the U.S., but draws primarily from a 150-mile radius from the resort. The resort does not typically allow day passes, meaning most guests stay at least one night. (The average visitor stays 1.6 nights.) With on-site eateries and an arcade to go with the water attractions and retail stores, guests can pretty much find everything they need without leaving and most likely will make a purchase or two while they’re there. Peak times are summer months and spring break.